A $184 million bench? Young talent could push Jason Heyward for time in Cubs’ OF

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Is this the year Jason Heyward finally hits for the Cubs, or could his playing time take the bigger hit?

MESA, Ariz. – The highest-paid outfielder in Cubs history has six more years left on a contract that averages about as much per year as the seven other opening-day position starters will make this year combined.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean Jason Heyward is a lock to hold down the every-day right-field job if Ian Happ, Albert Almora Jr. and Kyle Schwarber keep progressing, and producing, like their recent performances suggest they might.

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Manager Joe Maddon reiterated Sunday that Happ – the No. 9 overall draft pick in 2015 – will start the opener in center field and get a chance to run with the leadoff job as long as he looks like he can handle it.

“I’m not just going to flip-flop it around,” said Maddon, who also has 2014 first-rounder Schwarber penciled into left field – and who on Sunday lauded the job 2012 first-rounder Almora has done both the second half of last season and his finish to the spring.

Is it possible that contract considerations could take a back seat to performance when it comes to playing time at some point this season if the young guys earn the time?

“I’m not going to say it’s impossible,” said Maddon, emphasizing that he hasn’t formalized a lot of his lineup thoughts yet.

“I just want to stay open minded. I have faith in everybody out there. I feel good about everybody out there. Not every manager can say that. Everybody out there deserves to play.”

That hasn’t always been the case the first two years of Heyward’s $184 million deal. Heyward, who said a goal coming into camp was to stay on the field everyday this year, struggled enough to get relegated to platoon work during parts of both seasons – including the 2016 postseason.

His spring has not looked especially promising when it comes to reversing that trend.

“It’s going to be a juggling situation,” said Maddon, who plans to rotate his bench into the lineup from the start of the season, including Ben Zobrist through several positions in both the outfield and infield.

“I think they’re all committed to team right now,” Maddon said. “I don’t think anybody will bellyache if they’re not playing a little bit, if somebody’s playing more than they are. I think we’ve arrived at that point where they know two things: that we’re here to win, and they also know that if they stay ready their opportunity’s going to be there, too.”

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